Farm Aid concert pushes a message with the music

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BURGETTSTOWN, Pa. – Most of the 23,000 music fans attending the sold-out Farm Aid 2002 last weekend at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Pavilion probably didn’t care that there was a cause behind the concert. They were just there to hear the lineup of popular artists joining Farm Aid founder Willie Nelson in the nine-hour music smorgasbord.

But if you listened beyond the notes, Nelson and Farm Aid board members Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews pushed a message promoting sustainable agriculture and preservation of the smaller family farm.

“We’re fighting for the American dream,” said Nelson, who also added that current U.S. farm policy is eroding the family farm.

“We’re hurting our farmers here with our subsidies and we’re hurting farmers all over the world.”

Buy with a conscience. “Attention shoppers, attention shoppers: Buy with a conscience and save the family farm,” intoned rocker Neil Young, of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young fame, at the pre-concert news conference.

Young, who also interspersed his concert performance with mini-messages to support local farmers, suggested that maybe Farm Aid should develop a seal of approval to mark food products produced in line with the foundation’s anti-“factory farming” and pro-family farm mission.

“Support the people who are growing the food that’s not in Safeway. It’ll taste better,” Young said. “They can make a living if you support them.”

Dave Matthews, who joined the board in 2001, echoed Young’s call for consumers to buy locally produced food, and blasted large-scale farming methods. “It’s poisoning our culture, it’s poisoning our children and it’s poisoning our land.”

Labor lends hand. The Farm Aid board was joined at the news conference by Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers of America AFL-CIO-CLC, who said “it’s about time” the Farm Aid concert was held in western Pennsylvania, home of the Whiskey Rebellion and a region Gerard said has a “tremendous history of farmers and workers and community activities working together.”

Gerard said both labor and farmers have been hurt by U.S. trade policies. “The so-called miracles of free trade are destroying the American farmer and the American middle class,” he said.

The benefit concert’s all-star lineup included such artists as country music recording artists Keith Urban, Lee Ann Womack and Toby Keith; Texas-based newcomers Los Lonely Boys and Drive-By Truckers; Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Double Trouble; and hard rocker Kid Rock.

Who benefits? All of the artists donated their time to Farm Aid, which is now in its 15th year. From the concert proceeds, last year Farm Aid awarded grants of nearly $585,000 to “organizations that work to maintain a family farm system of agriculture.”

Top grantees between 1995 and 2000 were the Western Organization of Resource Councils, American corn Growers Association, Northern Plains Resource Council, Dakota Rural Action and the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

Funding proposals are accepted at any time and interested rural or farm organizations can get information on the Web at www.farmaid.org, or by calling Ted Quaday, program director, 1-800-FARMAID.

(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at editorial@farmanddairy.com.)

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